Virtua Health is 1st in South Jersey to provide lung-cancer technology that makes tumors glow

An innovative drug that “lights up” lung cancer cells is now available at Virtua Health in Marlton, enabling surgeons to better see and remove malignant tumors during surgery.

Virtua Health is the first provider in South Jersey to offer this important advancement, called Cytalux (pafolacianine).

“This is a groundbreaking product. It will help us operate more accurately and provide better cancer care,” thoracic surgeon Dr. Matthew Puc, program director of the Penn Medicine | Virtua Health Cancer Program based in Marlton, said.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, with nearly 240,000 new diagnoses and 130,000 deaths from the disease in the U.S. each year. In New Jersey, more than 5,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer annually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

Cytalux helps surgeons see the edges of the tumor, enhancing their ability to remove all of the cancer and preserve as much healthy tissue as possible. The drug also helps surgeons find second tumors that were not visible on imaging scans.

In a clinical trial, Cytalux helped surgeons find a lung cancer lesion that could not be found with standard approaches in 19% of patients. Additionally, in 8% of patients, Cytalux identified a second cancerous lesion that was missed by preoperative imaging.

“Without Cytalux, those tumors would not have been visible,” Puc explained.

Currently, he noted, up to 55% of people who undergo surgery to eliminate their lung cancer have a recurrence. Cytalux can potentially reduce such recurrences and increase survival rates by helping surgeons find and fully remove more cancers.

“It gives us a better sense of where the tumor begins and ends,” Puc said.

Cytalux is administered intravenously in as little as one hour before surgery. The drug binds to lung cancer cells and lights up when viewed through a special surgical camera.